Prosperity and the Upside to Global Knockoffs

Virginia Festival of the Book

Auerswald  Sprigman

Phil Auerswald (LEFT) and Chris Sprigman. Photo by Jeanne Nicholson Siler.

By Jeanne Nicholson Siler

The core trend of our current historical moment is an optimistic one, full of increasing prosperity and creativity, according to two young authors in the 19th annual Virginia Festival of the Book.

Hailing from the University of Virginia School of Law and the George Mason University School of Public Policy, professors Chris Sprigman and Phil Auerswald took turns sharing their research about our collective future. Their panel provided an attentive audience a peek into their combined research on entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativity.

Sprigman co-authored The Knockoff Economy, How Imitation Sparks Innovation with UCLA law professor Kal Raustiala. With a home in Charlottesville and a position at UVA, Sprigman begins his book, appropriately, with a Thomas Jefferson quote:

[An idea’s] peculiar character… is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. (1813)

Auerswald, author of The Coming Prosperity, How Entrepreneurs are Transforming the Global Economy, notes the same quotation underscores how our future economy will benefit from the three billion people worldwide who no longer depend on subsistence living: “They will join the global economy in the next quarter century as partners rather than competitors.”

Instead of functioning on economies of scale, the world’s future, he says, will be shaped “around economies of collaboration.” Both men believe doomsday forecasters concerned about resource scarcities overlook today’s tremendous possibilities for improvement. Auerswald suggests entrepreneurs can affect more change than the UN or World Bank.

In The Knockoff Economy, Sprigman stresses that copying both co-exists with and drives creativity. He writes about fashion, food, comedy, and why we can copy recipes and high fashion, and tell other people’s jokes, all without breaking any laws. He notes choreography can be legally protected, but not football plays.

While the music recording industry may have suffered under recent advances in legal and illegal downloading, consumers and musicians now experience the opposite. “It is not farfetched to say that music, in the midst of its alleged decline, is more creative than ever,” writes Sprigman.

Neither of the writers had met before the Festival, but left swapping promises to stay in touch, and offering up compliments to festival organizers who thought to bring them together.

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